May 24, 2011 / 1:33 PM / 6 years ago

Egyptian Islamist group eyes politics

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian Islamist group that took up arms against the state in the 1980s and 1990s wants to form a political party and contest the country’s first free elections in decades, one of its senior members said on Tuesday.

Gama‘a al-Islamiya was outlawed under former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February in a popular uprising after three decades in power.

Since then, the movement’s leadership has begun preaching non-violent means to reach its goal of an Islamic state.

A senior member of Gama‘a al-Islamiya, Tarek al-Zumar, said the group was launching plans for a “civil political party based on Islamic principles” that would even welcome members of Egypt’s Christian minority.

“The party will not use violence in dealing with any situation or with the state and will abide by Egyptian law and the constitution,” said Zumar, who expects to be a member of the party’s policy unit.

Zumar and his cousin Abboud were involved in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

They were released from jail in March, five weeks after Mubarak was ousted, signaling a dramatic change in the government’s stance on radical Islamist groups.

To many Egyptians, the name of Zumar is synonymous with the most violent period of Egypt’s recent history and the idea of such a radical group entering mainstream politics is likely to alarm secularists and members of the Christian minority.

Polls due in September are being seen as the first free Egyptian elections in decades. Mubarak’s opponents said previous polls were rigged to ensure a crushing win for his party.

Zumar said his party would not field a candidate in the presidential race, due before the end of this year.

“We want to tell the world that Islamists are not seeking power. We will support any candidate agreed on by the different national groups,” Zumar said.

“We will work to remove the people’s fears of Islamists. Our new party will include Christians and women would be able to hold senior posts in the party if they win them, as all posts will be chosen through internal elections,” he added.

He said Gama‘a al-Islamiya had not yet chosen a name for the new party or decided how many parliamentary seats it would contest, but it would be far fewer than the number targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest Islamist movement.

Brotherhood officials say they aim to contest up to half the seats in parliament.

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